Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In which I asphyxiate on the lump in my stomach

Juggling my schedule has become this dizzying balancing act, so I have failed to write about school. Composing an entry means setting aside time and sitting down to think - two luxuries in short supply for me right now.

Anyway, D-Day has arrived. It's here - the cuisine component of our course is about to end. To pass it, we have to go through one comprehensive written and practical exam each.

This is D-Day for the practicals, where I am supposed to cook three courses in 2.5 hours. The knot in my stomach is killing me. Then tomorrow, the entire class takes the written exam.

I got dealt a lemon. The schedule I'd hoped for was to be asked to take my practical after the written. That way, I'd have three more days to get ready. Instead, through a class lottery - that's one I'd never hoped to win! - I got picked to be in the first batch. That knot in my stomach is really fear of the unknown - I did not have time to practice making one of the dishes and am not sure what pitfalls lie in wait.

Well, when life hands you lemons, make lemon beurre blanc or lemon meringue pie. I'll do the best I can. I've already prayed to St. Macarius, protector of chefs, and offered 10 crudité platters with EVO. I need all the help keeping it together later.

The three courses I'll be making are:
Cream of Celery Soup
Niçoise Salad
Stuffed Chicken Suprême with Duxelle and Allemande

And for posterity's sake, here's my action plan (essential for not running around like a headless chicken):
1 Fabricate chicken. Cut bones into 2-3in pieces. Boil pot of salted water for NICOISE vegs.

2a Drop bones in stockpot. Wash. Cover with water. Bring to boil. Skim. (Yield of STOCK: 800ml)

2b Dice mirepoix (reserve 250g celery for soup). Prepare bouquet garni (parsley stems, peppercorns). Add to skimmed stock. Simmer for 1.15hrs.

2c Wash all vegs and salad greens.

3a Boil beans in salted H2O for 2mins. Shock in cold water. Brunoise mushrooms.
3b Boil NICOISE potatoes in salted water for 15mins. Set aside.

4 Finish brunoise mushrooms. Cut NICOISE tomato > wedges. Spinner > lettuce. Chill both and NICOISE plate. In saucepot, boil water for egg.

5 Julienne leeks. Small dice onion (SOUP). Mince shallots (SUPREME). Mince garlic. Wipe chopping board. Chop parsley, tuck into paper towel. Start boiling NICOISE egg (10mins).

5b Wipe board. NICOISE: Cut beans 2in. on a bias. Set aside.

6 Transfer cream (SOUP garnish) to squeeze bottle. Chill SOUP cream garnish, tuna and beans (NICOISE).

7 Check NICOISE potatoes for doneness.

8c Peel NICOISE egg. Chill.

9 Start turning SUPREME potatoes, carrots, sayote.

10 Sweat SOUP onion, celery.

11 SOUP: Add 30g flour, make white roux. Deglaze with white wine, let alcohol cook off.

12 Resume turning SUPREME potatoes, carrots, sayote.

13 Gradually add 500ml chix stock to SOUP (don’t forget to strain!). Bring to brief boil, simmer 20mins.

14 Saute SUPREME mushrooms over high heat until liquid evaporates. Deglaze with white wine. Cook until almost dry.

15 Stay near mushrooms. (Scald?) Add 30ml cream for SUPREME mushroom stuffing; season. Finish turning SUPREME potatoes, carrots, sayote. Set aside.

16 Add 30ml cream to SUPREME mushroom stuffing. Season. Set aside to cool.

8a Make ALLEMANDE > Make blond roux (butter + flour).
8b Gradually add strained hot stock, stirring constantly. Simmer for 20-30mins.

17 Process SOUP in blender. Check color (if pale, add a little parsley). Strain into pot, check consistency.

18 Brown ANGLAISE vegs for SUPREME. Add water, sugar, bring to simmer [START TIME: ]. After 5mins simmer [START TIME: ], check sayote. After 3mins [START TIME: ], check carrots. After 5mins [START TIME: ] check potato.

19 Heat pan for chicken SUPREME. Stuff chicken with duxelles, season. Sew incision shut. Rub chix with oil. Add oil to pan. Pan sear chicken skin side first. When presentation side nicely browned, turn. Brown other side, lower heat,. Finish in oven. Check ANGLAISE!

19b Reserve extra duxelle. Keep warm near stove.

20 Make NICOISE vinaigrette (garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper). Heat SOUP bowl.

21 Scald cream for SOUP. Gently add to soup off the heat. Get chilled cream in sq.bottle. Plate SOUP and garnish with chilled cream, parsley.

22 Get chilled greens, potatoes, green beans, tuna, tomato, egg for NICOISE.

23 Re-whisk NICOISE dressing. Dress greens. Arrange on plate. Add height!

24 Add tuna to center of lettuce bed.
Peel potato, large dice. Slice egg > quarters.
Add dressing to beans, diced potatoes. Array around tuna.
Arrange tomato and egg wedges.
Top with anchovies, olives. Garnish with parsley.

25 Check chicken in oven. Rest. Check ALLEMANDE. Fry leeks for SUPREME garnish. Drain on paper towel.

26 Make egg/cream liaison. Temper with some hot veloute. Adjust with lemon juice, season. Heat plate.

27 Remove stitches from chicken underside.

28. On plate, place bed of duxelle. Top with chicken. Arrange tourne. Garnish with sauce and leeks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oils & Vinegars: A Gourmet's Guide by Karen Farrington

Photo from Amazon.com

I bought this from a bookshop near school yesterday. It's loaded with information that will boost anyone's culinary eggheadedness without fail. The entire book covers different oils and vinegars, their history, production, uses and standards of quality, but unfortunately has no recipes, which disappoints me a little.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Giving back

While thousands of my countrymen lost their lives, family and/or property due to Typhoon Ondoy, there I was high and dry in my room. The worst tribulation I suffered that day was not being able to go out at will. There wasn't even a power failure to put a crimp in my plans to collapse in front of the TV.

So, partly to assuage survivor's guilt and mostly because I felt it was my civic duty to help out, I joined my school's relief effort, which consisted of cooking food and giving it to the Red Cross. I got repaid with a small kindness a day later: my employer decided not to deduct the time off from work I took for that activity.

We were able to make enough on that day to feed 1,000 people rendered homeless by Ondoy.